The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

Risky venture for Utah counties? will they gamble on speculative thorium nuclear venture?

Will Utah counties fund thorium reactor?  Salt Lake Tribune,  14 Aug 17,  “….Now a Utah startup is developing a thorium reactor, perhaps the first in the U.S. in half a century, and a consortium of eastern Utah counties is exploring whether to participate in the project. The Seven County Infrastructure Coalition (SCIC) last month issued a request for qualifications (RFQ) seeking a “project analyst” to evaluate “a thorium energy facility for producing electricity, etc. as proposed by Alpha Tech Research Corp.”……

 concerns about the use of limited county resources in such a speculative venture. Nor is it clear how the thorium proposal squares with the coalition’s legal mission, which is to “build essential regional infrastructure elements,” such as pipelines, roads, transmission and rail needed to deliver extracted minerals and power to markets…….
The coalition’s financing and procurement practices have recently come under intense scrutiny by Utah Treasurer David Damschen, who believes the group could be flouting accountability standards.
As a new member of the state Community Impact Board (CIB), which gives out federal mineral royalties to rural counties, Damschen has raised numerous concerns about the coalition’s management of CIB grants— its sole source of revenue. At recent meetings, the state treasurer has openly wondered whether the coalition steers contracts to insiders instead of the best qualified people and spends public money in ways that provide minimal public benefit…….

 thorium technology has years of costly research and development ahead before it’s ready to produce power and isotopes, according to Mike Simpson, a University of Utah metallurgical engineering professor.

“It‘s not accurate to say it’s proven to work. Aspects of it have been proven, but everything that has to be tied together hasn’t happened,” said Simpson….. many technical hurdles remain and these rural counties are not positioned to help address these challenges other than siting assistance for a reactor, Simpson added.

August 18, 2017 Posted by | technology, thorium, USA | Leave a comment

Thorium nuclear reactors? a very risky enterprise for Utah

crucially the technology, regulation, and business structures necessary to support a thorium reactor may not yet exist.

A coalition of South Carolina utilities developing what would have been the nation’s first new commercial nuclear reactor recently announced a decision to suspend that project partway through construction, following years of delay, billions of dollars in cost overruns. 

While a thorium reactor might avoid some of these challenges, others are likely systemic to the state of the nuclear power industry from a technological, regulatory, and business perspective, and would be hard for the counties to avoid. The counties may also have more proximate opportunities to achieve similar goals, including by facilitating or developing renewable energy infrastructure.

Will Utah counties fund thorium reactor? JDSUPRA,  PretiFlaherty 17 Aug 17, Could a coalition of rural counties in Utah and a startup company develop a thorium-fueled nuclear reactor for electric power and other purposes?

According to its website, the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition is currently comprised of seven counties in eastern Utah: Carbon, Daggett, Duchesne, Emery, San Juan, Sevier, and Uintah.  The website describes the Coalition’s main roles and mission as “to identify revenue-producing infrastructure assets that will benefit the region” and “to plan infrastructure corridors, procure funding, permit, design, secure rights-of-way and own such facilities,” with operation and maintenance possibly outsourced to third parties.

Apparently under consideration by the Coalition are energy projects, including a “thorium energy” project and a “hydrogen plant” project.  For example, the “Procurement” section of the Coalition’s website includes a Request for Qualifications for Project Analyst for Potential Thorium Energy and Hydrogen Plant Projects, as well as a Request for Qualifications Project Financial Analyst on Potential Thorium Energy Project.

Under the Project Analyst RFQ, which closed August 1, 2017,

The Coalition seeks an individual or team to act as a Project Analyst to advise it and its member counties on two proposed projects, how to evaluate emerging technologies, and the respective project teams. One project is a thorium energy facility for producing electricity, etc. as proposed by Alpha Tech Research Corporation. The second project consists of hydrogen plants to be used as fueling stations for hydrogen/electric semi-trucks as proposed by Nikola Motor Company, LLC.

Responsibilities defined in this original RFQ would include evaluation of the thorium energy and hydrogen plant projects, including an evaluation of “the feasibility and viability of projects in general, as well as the proposed projects, and determine how the Coalition and its members may use their assets to best benefit the public.”

According to its website, Alpha Tech Research Corp.’s motto is “Changing the face of nuclear power with clean, safe, molten salt reactor technology.”  But little other public information is easy to find on the company.

………crucially the technology, regulation, and business structures necessary to support a thorium reactor may not yet exist.

Fifteen days after the Project Analyst RFQ closed, the Coalition issued another request for qualifications “to seek an individual or team to act as a Project Analyst to advise it and its member counties on a proposed project related to thorium energy. In addition, the Coalition seeks guidance on how to evaluate emerging technologies, and companies or groups proposing projects to the Coalition. The thorium energy facility for producing electricity, etc. is proposed by Alpha Tech Research Corporation.” Proposals under this subsequent RFQ are due by 2:00 PM on October 2, 2017.  According to the Salt Lake Tribune, a coalition representative reported, “The coalition’s initial request for qualifications drew no adequate responses by its Aug. 1 deadline.”  (Query why not.)

It’s unclear how far the Utah counties’ efforts can go.  The coalition’s stated criteria for evaluating potential projects include requiring appropriate project benefits (such as facilitating needs in rural Utah that would otherwise go unaddressed), as well as avoidance of any “fatal flaws” (such as “obvious non-Coalition sponsor that should take the lead”, project success unlikely” and “low perceived benefit compared to cost.”)  The coalition is presumably at the stage where it is seeking expert advice to help it evaluate the thorium energy project under these criteria.

In its materials, the coalition emphasizes its expectation to rely on public-private partnerships, in part to allocate project risk to private entities with special expertise in taking those risks.  But developing the first commercial thorium reactor inherently involves a variety of risks — including developing a technology that works, securing all necessary regulatory approvals, and having business or financial arrangements in place that make the project a success.  These risks could pan out in the counties’ favor — but might not.  A coalition of South Carolina utilities developing what would have been the nation’s first new commercial nuclear reactor recently announced a decision to suspend that project partway through construction, following years of delay, billions of dollars in cost overruns.  While a thorium reactor might avoid some of these challenges, others are likely systemic to the state of the nuclear power industry from a technological, regulatory, and business perspective, and would be hard for the counties to avoid. The counties may also have more proximate opportunities to achieve similar goals, including by facilitating or developing renewable energy infrastructure……

August 18, 2017 Posted by | business and costs, technology, thorium, USA | Leave a comment

UK govt inviting plans for Small Modular Nuclear Reactors.

Utility Week 15th Aug 2017, Major players in the nuclear industry have been summoned by the government
to present their plans for the development of small modular reactors.
NuScale and Rolls-Royce among companies reportedly invited to talks with
the government over the next few weeks. Hitachi and Westinghouse have also
been invited.

The meeting is likely to relate to a competition launched by
the government in March 2016 to find the best value SMR design for the UK.
The results were originally due to be revealed last autumn alongside a
roadmap for the development of SMRs. Appearing before the House of Lords
science and technology committee in March former energy minister Jesse
Norman told members the competition would be “back on track” soon.

August 18, 2017 Posted by | politics, technology, UK | Leave a comment

Pyroprocessing causes MORE nuclear wastes, not less

The Pyroprocessing Files ED LYMAN, SENIOR SCIENTIST | AUGUST 12, 2017, The ARTICLE BY RALPH VARTABEDIAN in the Los Angeles Times highlights the failure of the Department of Energy’s decades-long effort to chemically process a stockpile of spent nuclear fuel at Idaho National Laboratory, ostensibly to convert the waste to forms that would be safer for disposal in a geologic repository. A secondary goal was to demonstrate the viability of a new type of processing spent fuel—so-called pyroprocessing. Instead, it has demonstrated the numerous shortcomings of this technology.

It is particularly important to disseminate accurate information about the failure of this DOE program to dispel some of the myths about pyroprocessing. The concept of the “Integral Fast Reactor”—a metal-fueled fast neutron reactor with co-located pyroprocessing and fuel fabrication facilities—has attracted numerous staunch advocates.

In addition to Argonne National Laboratory, which first developed the technology, the concept has been promoted in the popular media (most notably in the 2013 documentary Pandora’s Promise) and by GE-Hitachi, which seeks to commercialize a similar system. South Korea has long sought to be able to implement the technology, and countries such as China, Japan and Russia all have expressed interest in pursuing it. But this interest has been driven largely by idealized studies on paper and not by facts derived from actual experience.

DOE internal documents reveal problems

The LA Times article refers to a June 2017 Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report that draws on documents that UCS received in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. UCS initiated the request in 2015 to seek information that could shed light on DOE’s troubled program for pyroprocessing 26 metric tons of “sodium-bonded” metallic spent fuel from the shutdown Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II).

Pyroprocessing is a form of spent fuel reprocessing that dissolves metal-based spent fuel in a molten salt bath (as distinguished from conventional reprocessing, which dissolves spent fuel in water-based acid solutions). Understandably, given all its problems, DOE has been reluctant to release public information on this program, which has largely operated under the radar since 2000.

The FOIA documents we obtained have revealed yet another DOE tale of vast sums of public money being wasted on an unproven technology that has fallen far short of the unrealistic projections that DOE used to sell the project to Congress, the state of Idaho and the public. However, it is not too late to pull the plug on this program, and potentially save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

History of the pyroprocessing program

DOE originally initiated the pyroprocessing program for EBR-II spent fuel in the mid-1990s as a consolation prize to Argonne-West National Laboratory (now part of present-day Idaho National Laboratory) after it cancelled the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) program. The idea was that the metal-based spent fuel from the reactor could be pyroprocessed in a facility connected to the reactor, which would extract plutonium, uranium and other elements to be fabricated into new reactor fuel. In theory, this could be a system that could convert its nuclear waste into usable fuel on site and thus could be largely self-contained. Pyroprocessing was billed as a simpler, cheaper and more compact alternative to the conventional aqueous reprocessing plants that have been operated in France, the United Kingdom, Japan and other countries.

Although DOE shut down the EBR-II in 1994 (the reactor part of the IFR program), it allowed work at the pyroprocessing facility to proceed. It justified this by asserting that the leftover spent fuel from the EBR-II could not be directly disposed of in the planned Yucca Mountain repository because of the potential safety issues associated with presence of metallic sodium in the spent fuel elements, which was used to “bond” the fuel to the metallic cladding that encased it. (Metallic sodium reacts violently with water and air.)

Pyroprocessing would separate the sodium from other spent fuel constituents and neutralize it. DOE decided in 2000 to use pyroprocessing for the entire inventory of leftover EBR-II spent fuel – both “driver” and “blanket” fuel – even though it acknowledged that there were simpler methods to remove the sodium from the lightly irradiated blanket fuel, which constituted nearly 90% of the inventory.

Little progress, big cost overruns

However, as the FOIA documents reveal in detail, the pyroprocessing technology simply has not worked well and has fallen far short of initial predictions (Figure 1) (Refs. 1-3). Although DOE initially claimed that the entire inventory would be processed by 2007, as of the end of Fiscal Year 2016, only about 15% of the roughly 26 metric tons of spent fuel had been processed. Over $210 million has been spent, at an average cost of over $60,000 per kilogram of fuel treated. At this rate, it will take until the end of the century to complete pyroprocessing of the entire inventory, at an additional cost of over $1 billion.

But even that assumes, unrealistically, that the equipment will continue to be usable for this extended time period. Moreover, there is a significant fraction of spent fuel in storage that has degraded and may not be a candidate for pyroprocessing in any event (Ref. 4). The long time to completion is problematic because DOE has an agreement with the state of Idaho to remove all spent fuel from the state by the year 2035. The FOIA documents reveal that DOE is well aware that it is not on track to comply with this obligation (Ref 5). Yet DOE has not made any public statements to that effect and continues to insist that it can meet the deadline.

More waste, not less

 An impure uranium waste product is deposited on a cathode in a  pyroprocessing cell (Source: Idaho National Lab)

What exactly is the pyroprocessing of this fuelaccomplishing? Instead of making management and disposal of the spent fuel simpler and safer, it has created an even bigger mess. Pyroprocessing separates the spent fuel into three principal waste streams. The first is an enriched uranium metal material called the “spent fuel treatment product.” Because this material contains unacceptably high levels of plutonium and other contaminants, the uranium cannot be used to make new nuclear fuel unless it is further purified; thus it is a waste product. Meanwhile, the material is accumulating and taking up precious space at INL storage facilities, causing its own safety issues.

The second waste stream is the molten salt bath that is used to dissolve the spent fuel. Fission products and plutonium have accumulated in this salt for 20 years. Eventually it will have to be removed and safely disposed of. But for various reasons—including cost and a lack of available space for the necessary equipment—INL is reconsidering the original plan to convert this waste into a stable ceramic waste form. Instead, it may just allow it to cool until it hardens and then directly dispose of it in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico (Ref. 6).

The third waste stream consists of the leftover metal cladding tubes that encased the nuclear fuel, and the metal plenums that extended above the fuel region, which are contaminated with fission products and sodium. The original plan was to convert these scraps into a stable, homogeneous waste form. But the FOIA documents reveal that DOE is also reconsidering this plan, and considering redefining this material as transuranic or low-level waste so it could be disposed of without further processing in WIPP or a low-level radioactive waste disposal facility. Storage of the accumulating metal scrap material is also becoming an increasing burden at INL (Ref. 7).

In other words, pyroprocessing has taken one potentially difficult form of nuclear waste and converted it into multiple challenging forms of nuclear waste. DOE has spent hundreds of millions of dollars only to magnify, rather than simplify, the waste problem. This is especially outrageous in light of other FOIA documents that indicate that DOE never definitively concluded that the sodium-bonded spent fuel was unsafe to directly dispose of in the first place. But it insisted on pursuing pyroprocessing rather than conducting studies that might have shown it was unnecessary.

Everyone with an interest in pyroprocessing should reassess their views given the real-world problems experienced in implementing the technology over the last 20 years at INL. They should also note that the variant of the process being used to treat the EBR-II spent fuel is less complex than the process that would be needed to extract plutonium and other actinides to produce fresh fuel for fast reactors. In other words, the technology is a long way from being demonstrated as a practical approach for electricity production. It makes much more sense to pursue improvements in once-through nuclear power systems than to waste any more time and money on reprocessing technologies that pose proliferation, security and safety risks. DOE continues to consider alternatives to pyroprocessing for the blanket fuel (Ref. 8). It should give serious thought to the possibility of direct disposal of the remaining inventory without processing.

Links to FOIA documents

Below are links to some of the documents that UCS obtained from its FOIA request. We will provide more documents and analyses of them soon.

August 14, 2017 Posted by | Reference, reprocessing, USA | Leave a comment

In the effort to deal with nuclear waste, pyroprocessing created even more problems

Since the project began 17 years ago, 15% of the waste has been processed, an average of one-fourth of a metric ton per year. That’s 20 times slower than originally expected, a pace that would stretch the work into the next century — long past the 2035 deadline.

Lyman said he was determined to explore the Idaho program in light of increasing interest in the scientific and regulatory communities in advanced nuclear reactors — including breeder reactors — and what he believed was misleading information by advocates.

The Idaho National Lab created a ‘wonder fuel.’ Now, it’s radioactive waste that won’t go away,, Ralph VartabedianContact Reporter, 13 Aug 17  In the early days of atomic energy, the federal government powered up an experimental reactor in Idaho with an ambitious goal: create a “wonder fuel” for the nation.

The reactor was one of the nation’s first “breeder” reactors — designed to make its own new plutonium fuel while it generated electricity, solving what scientists at the time thought was a looming shortage of uranium for power plants and nuclear weapons.

It went into operation in 1964 and kept the lights burning at the sprawling national laboratory for three decades.

But enthusiasm eventually waned for the breeder reactor program owing to safety concerns, high costs and an adequate supply of uranium. Today, its only legacy is 26 metric tons of highly radioactive waste. What to do with that spent fuel is causing the federal government deepening political, technical, legal and financial headaches.

The reactor was shut down in 1994. Under a legal settlement with Idaho regulators the next year, the Department of Energy pledged to have the waste treated and ready to transport out of the state by 2035.

The chances of that happening now appear slim. A special treatment plant is having so many problems and delays that it could take many decades past the deadline to finish the job.

“The process doesn’t work,” said Edwin Lyman, a physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who has documented the problems in a new report. “It turned out to be harder to execute and less reliable than they promised.”

Many of the cleanup efforts, like the one in Idaho, are years or even decades behind schedule, reflecting practices that were far too optimistic when it came to technology, costs and management know-how.

Jim Owendoff, the acting chief of the Energy Department’s environmental management program, recently ordered a 45-day review of the entire $6-billion-a-year radiation cleanup effort. “What I am looking at is how we can be more timely in our decision-making,” he said in a department newsletter.

The Idaho reactor, located at the 890-square-mile Idaho National Laboratory, was designed to produce electricity while it “breeds” new fuel by allowing fast-moving neutrons to convert non-fissionable uranium into fissionable plutonium.

But the complexity of breeder reactors led to safety problems.

Only one breeder reactor ever went into commercial operation in the U.S. — the Enrico Fermi I near Detroit, which suffered a partial core meltdown in 1966. Construction of a breeder reactor on the Clinch River in Tennessee was stopped in 1983.

A reactor using similar technology above the San Fernando Valley experienced fuel core damage in 1959 that is believed to have released radioactive iodine into the air.

Ultimately, the nation never faced a shortage of uranium fuel, and now the Energy Department is spending billions of dollars to manage its surplus plutonium. Unlike uranium, the “wonder fuel,” as the lab called it, was bonded to sodium to improve heat transfer inside the reactor.

The sodium has presented an unusual waste problem.

Sodium is a highly reactive element that can become explosive when it comes in contact with water and is potentially too unstable to put in any future underground dump — such as the one proposed at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

To remove the bonded sodium, the government used a complex process, known as pyroprocessing, which was developed to also separate plutonium from the spent fuel. The spent fuel parts from the reactor are placed in a chemical bath and subjected to an electrical current, which draws off the sodium onto another material. The process is similar to electroplating a kitchen faucet.

Back in 2000, the project managers estimated in an environmental report that they could treat 5 metric tons annually and complete the job in six years.

But privately, the department estimated that it would take more than twice that long, according to internal documents that Lyman obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Even that was unrealistic, because it assumed that the treatment plant could work around the clock every day of the year, without down time for maintenance or allowance for breakdowns. Lyman found that during one year — 2012 — no waste at all was processed.

Since the project began 17 years ago, 15% of the waste has been processed, an average of one-fourth of a metric ton per year. That’s 20 times slower than originally expected, a pace that would stretch the work into the next century — long past the 2035 deadline.

The problem with the breeder reactor waste is just one of many environmental issues at the lab, located on a high desert plateau near Idaho Falls. The federal government gifted the Idaho lab with additional radioactive waste for decades.

After the highly contaminated Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant near Denver was shut down in 1993, the waste was shipped to Idaho. The Navy has been sending in its spent fuel from nuclear-powered ships.

The lab is dealing with tons of waste containing artificial elements, so-called transuranic waste. The Energy Department promised to move an average of 2,000 cubic meters to a special dump in New Mexico, but it has missed that goal for several years, because of an underground explosion at the dump. The Energy Department declined to answer specific questions about the breeder waste cleanup, citing the sensitivity of nuclear technology. It blamed the slow pace of cleanup on inadequate funding but said it was still trying to meet the deadline.

“When the implementation plan for the treatment of the [spent fuel] was developed in 2000, there was very limited nuclear energy research and development being performed in the United States,” a department spokesperson said in a statement.

“The funding for this program has been limited in favor of other research and development activities. The Department remains strongly committed to the treatment of this fuel in time to meet its commitments to the State of Idaho.”

Susan Burke, who monitors the cleanup at the laboratory for the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, said the state will continue to demand that the waste be ready for shipment out of Idaho by 2035.

“The Energy Department is doing the best it can, but our expectation is that they will have to meet the settlement agreement,” she said.

Idaho watchdogs are skeptical.

“There is some bad faith here on the part of the Energy Department,” said Beatrice Brailsford, nuclear program director at the Snake River Alliance, a group that monitors the lab. “The department is misleading the public. Not much information has been given out, but enough to be skeptical that the technology works well enough to meet the settlement.”

Lab officials declined to comment.

Lyman said he was determined to explore the Idaho program in light of increasing interest in the scientific and regulatory communities in advanced nuclear reactors — including breeder reactors — and what he believed was misleading information by advocates.

He presented a technical paper about pyroprocessing at a conference held in July by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Lyman said he believes the Energy Department has little chance of success in the program.

“They are just blowing smoke,” he said. “It is a failure and they can’t admit it, because they don’t have a backup plan that would satisfy the state.”

August 14, 2017 Posted by | Reference, reprocessing, USA | Leave a comment

Poor future for many decades for New Generation Nuclear Reactors

New Generation Nuclear Reactors Unlikely to Deliver on Design, EcoWatch, By Paul Brown, 9 Aug 17

New generation nuclear reactors, promised for the last 18 years by the U.S. Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) as a way to provide cheap and plentiful supplies of electricity, are unlikely to be fulfilled any time in the next 30 years.

That is the conclusion of university researchers who have used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the program’s budget history to find out what designs the government has spent $2 billion of public money on supporting.

Researchers from the University of California San Diego and Carnegie Mellon University described the research program as “incoherent” and said the government was “unlikely” to deliver on its mission to develop and demonstrate an advanced nuclear reactor by mid-century.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, said much of the money that was supposed to be spent on civilian reactors was spent instead on supporting infrastructure, where the main focus was defense programs and not commercial opportunities……..

Overall, the technology’s prospects appear grim, with implications that go beyond energy.

“Without a sense of urgency among NE and its political leaders,” Abdulla warned, “the likelihood of advanced reactors playing a substantial role in the transition to a low-carbon U.S. energy portfolio is exceedingly low…..

These reported failings in the U.S. research program come at a difficult time for the industry when across the world the current “new” generation of large nuclear reactors is proving difficult to build on time and on budget, and some projects are being abandoned mid-way through construction…….

Most of the money now being spent on research into new generations of nuclear power stations is being provided by nuclear weapon states. Most countries that have never had nuclear weapons but have invested in nuclear power stations are now phasing them out and putting their development money into cheaper renewables

August 11, 2017 Posted by | business and costs, technology, USA | Leave a comment

More USA tax-payer funding for gimmicky “new nukes”

Argonne Lab will verify Transatomic Power molten fuel salt, Next Big Future  brian wang | August 4, 2017 Transatomic Power Corporation has been awarded a second voucher to complete work with the Argonne National Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced last month.…….The voucher, awarded through the DOE’s Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative, will experimentally verify the physical properties of the fuel salt for Transatomic’s molten salt reactor technology, and will be conducted at the Argonne National Laboratory.

August 5, 2017 Posted by | technology, USA | Leave a comment

Kansai Electric signs MOX N-fuel deal

 August 01, 2017 Jiji Press FUKUI  — Kansai Electric Power Co. said Monday it has concluded a contract to procure mixed oxide, or MOX, nuclear fuel for the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at its Takahama nuclear power station in the central prefecture of Fukui.

The company signed the contract with Nuclear Fuel Industries Ltd. MOX fuel is a blend of uranium and plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel.

Kansai Electric became the first power supplier in Japan to conclude a deal to receive supply of MOX fuel since the March 2011 triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Nuclear Fuel Industries will take charge of the design of MOX fuel and other processes. The production will be commissioned to a group plant of French nuclear giant Areva SA. Under the deal, 32 sets of MOX fuel will be produced —16 sets each for the two reactors.

Kansai Electric concluded similar procurement deals in March and November 2008. In both cases, it was a few years before MOX fuel produced abroad arrived at the Takahama nuclear plant after the deals were concluded.

The Takahama Nos. 3 and 4 reactors, which went back online earlier this year, produce electricity using MOX fuel, a method called “plu-thermal” power generation.

“We will continue with plu-thermal while giving top priority to safety,” Kansai Electric said

August 2, 2017 Posted by | Japan, technology | Leave a comment

USA government in confusion over funding of MOX nuclear facility

Trump administration opposes House measure funding MOX nuclear facility,Daniel Wasserbly – IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, 26 July 2017

Key Points

  • The White House ‘strongly opposes’ a House effort to continue funding the MOX plutonium disposition programme
  • House and Senate appropriators are at odds over funding the controversial facility

The White House is backing a US Department of Energy (DoE) request, once again, for Congress to terminate a multi-billion-dollar project aimed at disposing weapon-grade plutonium, the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF).

MFFF has suffered significant cost and schedule issues but is strongly supported by South Carolina’s congressional delegation and there are few easy options to replace the facility. It has survived repeated White House and DoE efforts during the Obama administration to curtail or terminate the programme, and last year even survived Russia’s suspension of the arms control agreement that underpins the project.

The Trump administration, in its fiscal year 2018 (FY 2018) budget request for the DoE, asked for USD270 million “to terminate the Mixed Oxide [MOX] Fuel Fabrication Facility with an orderly and safe closure of the facility”. It also asked for USD9 million in FY 2018 to pursue a ‘dilute and dispose’ method as an alternative for plutonium disposition. The Obama administration asked for, but did not receive, the same thing last year.

So far, during a tumultuous FY 2018 budget process, Senate appropriators appear to back the White House’s request to end MOX but House appropriators want the programme to continue.

In a 24 July ‘statement of administration policy’, the White House said it “strongly objects to continued construction of the Mixed Oxide [MOX] Fuel Fabrication Facility” as directed in the House appropriations bill. That legislation is still being finalised and must be reconciled with the Senate version before being enacted by the president. The White House did not indicate that it would consider a veto.

July 28, 2017 Posted by | politics, technology, USA | Leave a comment

Nuclear power’s too expensive – and Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs) won’t save the industry

Not surprisingly, with costs so high, few reactors are being built. The hope offered by the nuclear industry is that going back to building smaller reactors might allow more utilities to invest in them.

The main priority preventing safe deployment [of small nuclear reactors] is economics. Most commercial proposals for SMRs involve cost-cutting measures, such as siting multiple reactors in close proximity. This increases the risk of accidents, or the impact of potential accidents on people nearby.

Cost overruns aside, smaller reactors might be cheaper but they also produce much less electricity and revenue. As a result, generating each unit of electricity will be more expensive.


Small nuclear power reactors: Future or folly?, M V Ramana, July 25, 2017 Nuclear energy companies are proposing small nuclear reactors as a safer and cheaper source of electricity.

In June, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories put out a “call for a discussion around Small Modular Reactor (SMRs) in Canada,” and the role the organization “can play in bringing this technology to market.”

The news release asserts that SMRs are “a potential alternative to large-scale nuclear reactors,” would be effective at “decreasing up-front capital costs through simpler, less complex plants” and are “inherently safe” designs. All of this warrants examination.

As a physicist who has researched and written about various policy issues related to nuclear energy and different nuclear reactor designs for nearly two decades, I believe that one should be skeptical of these claims. Continue reading

July 26, 2017 Posted by | Canada, technology | Leave a comment

Google developing computer algorithm for nuclear fusion research

Google enters race for nuclear fusion technology. The tech giant and a leading US fusion company develop a new computer algorithm that significantly speeds up progress towards clean, limitless energy,Guardian,  Damian  Carrington, 26 July 17Google and a leading nuclear fusion company have developed a new computer algorithm which has significantly speeded up experiments on plasmas, the ultra-hot balls of gas at the heart of the energy technology.

Tri Alpha Energy, which is backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, has raised over $500m (£383m) in investment. It has worked with Google Research to create what they call the Optometrist algorithm. This enables high-powered computation to be combined with human judgement to find new and better solutions to complex problems.

Nuclear fusion, in which atoms are combined at extreme temperatures to release huge amounts of energy, is exceptionally complex. The physics of nuclear fusion involves non-linear phenomena, where small changes can produce large outcomes, making the engineering needed to suspend the plasma very challenging.

“The whole thing is beyond what we know how to do even with Google-scale computer resources,” said Ted Baltz, at the Google Accelerated Science Team. So the scientists combined computer learning approaches with human input by presenting researchers with choices. The researchers choose the option they instinctively feel is more promising, akin to choosing the clearer text during an eye test…….

July 26, 2017 Posted by | 2 WORLD, technology | Leave a comment


But Lohmann and Gasparini warn that the plan comes with major drawbacks. It could, they say, lead to even more cirrus clouds being formed, exacerbating global warming in the process.

CLIMATE CHANGE AND GEOENGINEERING: ARTIFICIALLY COOLING PLANET EARTH BY THINNING CIRRUS CLOUDS, NewsWeek, BY HANNAH OSBORNE ON 7/21/17 “……Over recent decades, scientists from across the globe have been discussing the potential of geoengineering—the deliberate manipulation of the environment that could, in theory, cool the planet and help stabilize the climate.

There are main two types of geoengineering. The first involves removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it. This is already being done on an industrial scale, but it is not effective enough at the moment to cope with the huge levels of emissions. The other type, solar radiation management, is more radical—an attempt to reduce the amount of sunlight absorbed by the planet by reflecting it away.

Many ways of doing this have been proposed. One of the most widely discussed (and riskiest) involves the injection of reflective aerosols into the upper atmosphere. This plan is based on the cooling effect of volcanoes: Sulfur dioxide emitted in an eruption causes the formation of droplets of sulfuric acid. These reflect the sunlight away, creating a cooling effect. But this plan could also go very wrong. The sulfuric acid could strip away the ozone layer, leaving Earth completely exposed to the sun’s radiation.

In an article published in the journal Science, Ulrike Lohmann and Blaž Gasparini, from the ETH Zurich, in Switzerland, discuss a variation of this idea: the thinning of cirrus clouds to target the long-wave radiation coming from Earth.

Cirrus clouds are thin and wispy clouds that form at high altitudes and do not reflect much solar radiation back into space, creating a greenhouse effect. The higher the altitude at which they form, the larger the warming effect on the climate. And in a warmer climate, cirrus clouds form at higher altitudes.
So what if we got rid of them? These clouds could be thinned out—leading to a reduction in their warming effect—by seeding them with aerosol particles like sulfuric or nitric acid, which act as “ice nucleating particles” or INPs. If these are injected into the level of the atmosphere where cirrus clouds form, the way they form would be altered, resulting in thinner clouds that have less of a warming effect.

“The maximum cirrus seeding potential would be achieved by removing all cirrus clouds,” they write. “If cirrus thinning works, it should be preferred over methods that target changes in solar radiation, such as stratospheric aerosol injections, because cirrus thinning would counteract greenhouse gas warming more directly.”

But Lohmann and Gasparini warn that the plan comes with major drawbacks. It could, they say, lead to even more cirrus clouds being formed, exacerbating global warming in the process.

“Unintended cirrus formation is especially pronounced if the seeded INPs start to nucleate ice at very low relative humidities…. If cirrus seeding is not done carefully, the effect could be additional warming rather than the intended cooling. If done carefully, the negative radiative effect from cirrus seeding should be stronger in a warmer climate, in which the overall radiative effect of cirrus clouds will be larger.”

Because of the dangers, the scientists say any plan to thin cirrus clouds should be limited to specific times and places, where it would be most effective. “Contrary to solar radiation management methods, cirrus seeding is more effective at high than at low latitudes. A small-scale deployment of cirrus seeding could therefore be envisioned—for instance, in the Arctic to avoid further melting of Arctic sea ice,” they say, but the scientists add that there are many questions that need to be answered before cirrus thinning can be further explored.

“It is also important to remember that, like solar radiation management, cirrus thinning cannot prevent the CO2 increase in the atmosphere and the resulting ocean acidification,” they conclude. “For the time being, cirrus cloud thinning should be viewed as a  thought experiment that is helping to understand cirrus cloud–formation mechanisms.”

July 22, 2017 Posted by | 2 WORLD, climate change, technology | Leave a comment

NASA to develop nuclear power on Mars

NASA Seeks Nuclear Power On Mars By Natalie Wickstrom  |  July 18, 2017 According to recent reports, NASA has decided to pursue nuclear reactor development on Mars once more after abandoning the project nearly 50 years ago.

This news may not come as a surprise to some, as it had already been announced that NASA was looking to send a human to Mars in the near future. That being the case, it would seem only logical that the next step would be figuring out how to guarantee some sort of energy supply for whatever contingent of the human race ends up inhabiting the planet.

The answer to this potential energy dilemma may come in the form of nuclear fission reactors, small reactors that split uranium atoms to generate heat and subsequently, electric power.

During the 1960s, NASA tested a fission reactor as part of the Systems for Nuclear Auxiliary Power program, or SNAP. These tests developed two types of nuclear power systems, both of which are still powering space probes and other reactors in space to this day. SNAP-10A, the first—and only—nuclear power plant to operate in space under U.S. control generated some 500 watts of electrical power before experiencing equipment failure that has left it orbiting in space to this day.

Though nuclear power development has been on NASA’s agenda for more than half a century now, various issues stemming from financial and political conditions However, the agency’s “Game Changing Development” backed a goal of building and testing a small reactor by fall of 2017.

If the tests are successful, this could mean that NASA could have a guaranteed method of powering an archetype of a space station designed for Mars’ red clay surface. However, until that point, it remains to be seen as to whether or not energy options such as nuclear power—or even solar power, for that matter—could be viable to support life in space.

July 19, 2017 Posted by | technology, USA | Leave a comment

Will Small Nuclear Reactors be the great white hope for the ailing nuclear industry? Probably not.

The reactor that could kick-start the nuclear sector comes in a very small package, True Viral New 

The grand promise of commercial SMRs is that they would be compact enough to prefabricate in factories and ship to their destination, where they could be stacked together to produce whatever level of energy generation is needed. …….

A number of other companies and research institutions are pursuing so-called fourth-generation SMR technologies, including molten-salt and high-temperature gas. But in general, those face tougher technical challenges, as well as regulatory ones, and may take longer to develop.

NuScale’s main financial backer is the large engineering firm Fluor, which took a majority stake in the company in 2011. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded the company $217 million under the SMR Licensing Technical Support Program. But the Trump administration’s budget proposal includes sharp cuts to the DOE’s nuclear programs, which could jeopardize the company’s ability to secure the remaining $47 million of that grant…….

a number of Republican lawmakers urged President Trump in a letter in May to support the development of SMRs…….

Despite the promise of SMRs, the technology is not a sure bet. Notably, even if capital outlays are considerably lower, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will yield competitive electricity costs, particularly against low-cost natural gas.

Some players have reportedly already pulled back from SMRs, including Westinghouse and Babcock & Wilcox, at least in part because of competition from cheaper energy sources.

“The cost per megawatt-hour doesn’t necessarily come down just because you’re building a smaller plant,” says Ryan Fitzpatrick, deputy director of the clean-energy program at the think tank Third Way. “There have to be cost savings derived through other processes.”

Those could include things like shorter construction times and new design features that reduce regulatory expenses. But the key to driving down costs would be setting up factories to crank out a lot of reactors, says Neil Todreas, a professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT…..

That, however, may present a bit of a chicken-and-egg challenge: securing financing to build the plants will probably require a lot of orders, but it would be hard for a company to obtain those orders before it could reliably produce reactors cheaply.

In addition, the Union of Concerned Scientists has raised separate questions about how safe and secure the plants will really be. Among other issues, the group noted that a widely distributed network of smaller but more numerous reactors could make it harder to safeguard nuclear material that, among other dangers, can be used to make dirty bombs.

In the end, SMRs may or may not end up being the ideal or most economical way to add significant nuclear generation to the grid. But in a nation where it’s become nearly impossible to build any new nuclear plants, it could simply be the technology needed to get the industry moving forward again at all, Todreas says.

“I am not sure there will be a march toward small modular reactors across the U.S. for decades, or that they will completely replace large power plants,” he says. “But certainly in the near term, they’re very important for the health of nuclear power in the U.S.” In the end, SMRs may or may not end up being the ideal or most economical way to add significant nuclear generation to the grid. But in a nation where it’s become nearly impossible to build any new nuclear plants, it could simply be the technology needed to get the industry moving forward again at all, Todreas says.

“I am not sure there will be a march toward small modular reactors across the U.S. for decades, or that they will completely replace large power plants,” he says. “But certainly in the near term, they’re very important for the health of nuclear power in the U.S.”

July 19, 2017 Posted by | technology, USA | 1 Comment

Britain’s nuclear lobby getting very worried about Brexit

Brexit threatens Britain’s place at the nuclear top table, The UK is currently a world leader in fusion research; leaving Euratom would be calamitous, Guardian, Ian Chapman, Professor Ian Chapman is CEO of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, 16 Jul 17  “…..For decades, the UK has led the world in addressing this grand challenge. The fusion (or sticking together) of types of hydrogen to release energy requires the fuel to be heated to temperatures 10 times that of the sun. The harsh conditions required for fusion are a challenge for even the most robust of materials. International partnership has always been crucial to overcome these challenges; the complexity of the science and engineering and the cost of building large test reactors make it difficult for one nation to go it alone.

Currently, my organisation, the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), operates the world’s largest fusion experiment, Joint European Torus(Jet), on behalf of Europe. In so doing, we have acquired unique capabilities in critical areas for fusion – robotic maintenance, material testing and fuel handling to name just a few – enabling us to help UK industry to win contracts on Iter totalling more than £450m already (which could rise to more than £1bn)…..

both the operation of Jet and the UK’s participation in Iter are a result of our membership of the Euratom treaty, an agreement on European nuclear co-operation that dates back to 1957. On 29 March, the UK government declared an intention to leave Euratom at the same time as leaving the European Union.

For the UK, a pioneer of fusion research and development since the 1950s, it would be the worst possible time to take a back seat in the race to develop this transformative technology. …..

July 17, 2017 Posted by | politics international, technology, UK | Leave a comment